Reed Elsevier’s Experiment With Online Free Access

Today’s New York Times notes this weekend’s launch of Elsevier’s OncologySTAT website:

But now Reed Elsevier, which publishes more than 400 medical and scientific journals, is trying an experiment that stands this model on its head. Over the weekend it introduced a Web portal,, that gives doctors free access to the latest articles from 100 of its own pricey medical journals and that plans to sell advertisements against the content.
The new site asks oncologists to register their personal information. In exchange, it gives them immediate access to the latest cancer-related articles from Elsevier journals like The Lancet and Surgical Oncology. Prices for journals can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars a year.

The article questions whether Reed Elsevier runs a risk of cannibalizing their print journal business by offering some on-line content for free. However, advertising revenue is the carrot for this mainstay of the publishing industry (both of whose namesakes data back to the late 1800s):

But Reed Elsevier executives hope that users will be an attractive target for advertisers, providing a model for an array of portals they could set up for health care professionals. Future sites may focus on specialties like neurology, psychiatry, cardiology and infectious diseases, company officials said.
Monique Fayad, an Elsevier senior vice president, said the total online advertising market was growing “in double digits” and added, “We expect it will be a $1 billion opportunity within the next two years.”

Here, specifically, is what offers:

– Search and download current articles from 100+ Elsevier cancer related journals.
– Literature scans from the top 20 cancer related journals (JCO, JNCI, CA, Blood, NEJM, JAMA, etc.)
– Daily medical and regulatory news from Elsevier Global Medical News Group and FDC Reports’ “The Pink Sheet Daily.”
– 25+ Cancer Type Spotlights (Breast, Lung, Prostate, etc)
– Professional Drug Monograph and Interactions Database; patient handouts
– Chemotherapy Regimens (The Elsevier Guide to Oncology Drugs & Regimens, 2006 edition)
– Coverage of all major cancer conferences and meetings
– Plus MEDLINE, expert interviews, blogs, videos, and more

Yes, buried in there are blogs, a feature that the NYT article did not address. Who might Elsevier recruit to write blogs? So, kill me – I registered to check out the offerings.
Lo and behold, I learned that one of the two Elsevier bloggers is none other than Nick Genes, MD, PhD, author of Blogborygmi and founder of the weekly medical blog carnival, Grand Rounds. In addition to Dr Genes, an ER resident at Mt Sinai in NYC, Elsevier also tagged Edwina Baskin-Bey, at surgical resident at Mayo Clinic. Dr Baskin-Bey has been a freelance writer for but, to my knowledge, has not previously been a medical blogger.
I think that it’s a pretty impressive coup for Reed Elsevier to tag Nick Genes as an inaugural blogger. Nick is a long-time med blogger and has grown to make medical writing a big part of his professional life. He writes both for and does interviews of Grand Rounds hosts for Medscape, a feature called Pre-Rounds.
I intend no offense to either of the good doctors, but it is striking that neither Dr Genes nor Dr Baskin-Bey are practicing oncologists (although Genes’ Pre-Rounds appears on Medscape Hematology-Oncology). There are oncologist-bloggers that could have been recruited but one must admit that Genes is a superb writer.
Getting back to the content, it seems that the Reed Elsevier effort is less for academic oncologists as it is for those in the community:

But Dr. Leonard B. Saltz, a colon cancer expert at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer, said, “Another Web site was not what we desperately need.” He added, “I know the literature of my area often before it is published.” Beyond that, he uses the government site, PubMed, and the Google Scholar search engine to drill into research issues.

But not every oncologist has the luxury of Dr Saltz:

Doctors like Dr. Saltz who work at the big teaching centers have free access to most, if not all, of the journals. But oncologists away from those centers, like Dr. Yi in Princeton, see 85 percent of all cancer patients and rely on the Internet as their link to the knowledge base. [emphasis mine]

Reed Elsevier certainly draws a lot of grief among the scientific community. But improving access to the primary oncology literature for community oncologists is certainly an idea I can support.

2 thoughts on “Reed Elsevier’s Experiment With Online Free Access

  1. This is very cool. I hope that more publishers consider this sort of model. Sounds rather silly for someone who is not even a scientist, much less a doctor, but I really hope that this spreads like wildfire throughout science publishing.
    I can easily see this making a big difference for those who just don’t get institutional access to a wide range of journals. When subscriptions run into the thousands, those who have to pay for the access out of pocket have to pick and choose what to subscribe to. Gods forbid your an engineer who works in multiple disciplines.
    I have a friend who designs and builds lad devices, often for specific research projects. When he was a student, he had access to pretty much every database and journal available, from micro-biology to particle physics and everything in between. When he (I suspect accidentally) managed to get two PHDs, he got cut off for about four months and had trouble working. He had access to data relevant to the project he was designing a gizmo for, but not some reading essential to the design of said gizmo. He finally had to capitulate and take a teaching position at MSU to get access to all their subscriptions.
    While I would assume, knowing him, that MSU students got a great boon with his acquisition as an instructor, he really wanted to focus on his work for a few years without the bother of actually teaching. He had always planned on teaching eventually, he just wanted a few years to immerse himself in other work first (not to mention making a fair amount of money as a freelancer). On the upside, they did give him the lightest class load possible and by the time he does reach the point he intended to start teaching, he’s a shoe-in for tenure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s